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Thunder’s trial and error continues as they learn how to close out games in 101-99 loss to Wizards

Another double-digit comeback falls short as young OKC fights back

Washington Wizards v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

In another close fought game, the Oklahoma City Thunder fall short to the Washington Wizards, 101-99.

Add this game to the collection of contests that the Thunder were in until the final buzzer. This has been the theme all season. A young and undertalented Thunder team carrying themselves like pros and fighting for a full 48 minutes. Making teams sweat and count their blessings for not dropping one they should have easily won on paper.

Opposing teams probably look at the Thunder on their schedule and mark that down as an easy win. Instead, teams are having to fight tooth and nail to earn out a win against this young and competitive squad.

If a team is going to rebuild, this is the perfect script to follow. Losing a ton of games to keep their lottery odds high with most of those losses coming competitively as the young guys surprise even the most experienced and talented teams in the league.

Let’s start with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who made his return after missing the previous two games with an ankle sprain. All in all, SGA finished with 15 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. A pretty good performance for the young franchise player.

The sequence that fans will remember SGA for during this Black Friday game came in the final seconds. After a missed three from KCP, SGA grabbed the rebound with 4.3 seconds left and took a couple of steps before the team called a timeout.

Due to this happening, the Thunder would not be permitted to advance the ball. Now, down by two, the Thunder had to go 3/4th of the court in less than three seconds.

When first looking at the play, one could safely assume that SGA got too ahead of himself when he grabbed the rebound and forgot the game clock situation. Turns out, Thunder Head Coach Mark Daigneault took the blame for the miscue. After the game, he mentioned how he always tells his players to grab the board and push it in those situations. In tonight’s case, he said he thought that the team didn’t have the numbers advantage in the fast break and decided to call timeout to set something up.

“In those situations, I tell the players, ‘When you get a rebound, just bust it out and go,’” said Daigneault. “If anybody is to blame on that one, that’s on me.”

With Josh Giddey almost traveling on the inbound pass, SGA caught the ball, ran up and shot a prayer three that almost went in. People love to call football a game of inches, the same logic can be applied to basketball as SGA’s shot goes in and out and the game ends. Instead of being 7-12, the team sits at 6-13.

“It’s tough. Going in and out. That’s life, that’s basketball,” said SGA after the game.

This sequence could be a valuable lesson for both Daigneault and SGA. Poor game awareness late in games can come back to bite you like it did tonight. Obviously, losing in this fashion with avoidable mistakes is going to sting. But it’s better to get these growing pains out of the way now when it’s a rebuilding season instead of later on down the road when wins and losses actually matter.

With all that said, a poor four-second sequence should not take away with how impressive the Thunder’s efforts were tonight for the first 47:56 of the game. While down by double digits late in the third quarter, it felt like the Wizards were finally pushing through and closing this game out. Instead, the Thunder found a way to climb back down and make this a game once again.

No matter how many times this squad does it, being able to overcome adversity as well as they have considering the lack of experience speaks eons on the health of the organization.

Fans might start experiencing fatigue with how a lot of these games play out with similar scripts, but trust me, pushing through and falling short is part of the developmental process in not just professional basketball, but in life. This team will eventually clear this hurdle — might not be this season or next — but they will. It’s just going to require a lot of trial and error that is partnered with patience. And when they do, it’s going to be because of nights like tonight.

“We’re still learning. The more we play in those situations, we’re going to get better at it,” said Giddey after the game. “We thought hard. We played hard all game. Either team could have won that game... Just couldn’t close it out.”

Other Notes

  • Lu Dort was once again fantastic with 21 points. At this point, it’s almost expected. Which is high praise for Dort and the work he has put in during his three seasons with the team. Dort has blossomed into one of the leaders on this team — which makes sense, he’s surprisingly one of the longest-tenured players on the team with playoff experience. When asked about his style of leadership, he brings up how he tries to lead by example. Something that Chris Paul taught him in his rookie season.

It was crazy to hear a CP3 namedrop. Just goes to show you how his handprint is still over this team even though he hasn’t been with this franchise for over a year.

  • Giddey finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists. For this game’s crazy Giddey pass I would like to nominate this insane bullet of a pass to Kenrich Williams:
  • Speaking of Williams, he suffered an ankle sprain in the second half. When asked for an update, he mentioned how the medical staff ruled Williams out for the rest of the game relatively quickly after the fact. This is usually a sign that a player will probably miss multiple games.

“I expect him to miss some time,” mentioned Daigneault.

  • Aleksej Pokusevski had a classic Poku game where a lot of fans will forget all of the bad due to one amazing moment. That moment came in the third quarter, where Poku went coast-to-coast for a tip back two-pointer off of a missed driving layup.

Daigneault mentioned after the game that he considered letting Poku close the game and that he let him play through some stuff. He also said that he has been coaching him hard so far this season. Which is interesting because I think this is the first time Daigneault has mentioned this in public. Up to this point, it was a safe assumption to make that the Thunder’s leash with Poku was a lot shorter compared to last season. He would get yanked off the court quicker if he made mistakes and has struggled all season cracking the rotation and gaining minutes.

Next Game: The Thunder travel to Houston to take on the Rockets on Monday, Nov. 29.